Horror Bites - Keeping the Faith


Okay... time for a little detour with The Ninth Configuration. The links with The Exorcist are pretty tenuous at best in terms of character and plot, so what we have is a story set in a psychiatric hospital where one of the patients just happens to be the astronaut Regan spoke to at her mother's party before the whole pea soup episode. But as an offshoot from those films it has to be visited. Some of the themes do cross over in a few places, and there is some exploration of nature of faith and a lot of discussion about the strength of the human spirit here. William Peter Blatty directed this from his own book as he'd do later with Legion. He also partly funded the project which had to be filmed in Europe at the request of the other financial backer... Pepsi. So this is all starting to sound a little strange before we even get to the film itself which is a well, less than congruous affair.

You'd probably be expecting a pretty downbeat tone from this initial synopsis, and in parts this is certainly the case as issues about insanity, split personalities and mental breakdowns are covered as things progress inside what is part mystery plot, part character study. But this is only half the story, and it's up against another altogether less serious look at some of the odd personalities in treatment. How much of this works for you will depend on your need for a consistent narrative on top of the underlying themes, and personally it doesn't really come together as a whole despite some interesting conclusions being drawn in the final act.

The existence of true human goodness and whether this can be attributed to some sort of divine purpose is the central idea, something being considered by some rather unstable personalities. Colonel Kane (Stacy Keach) arrives at a repurposed castle being used by the military to treat former servicemen who have been committed for having one kind of mental problem or another. Working with Colonel Fell (Ed Flanders) he meets the various eccentrics inhabiting the facility including Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson) who suffered a breakdown before his big day, a lunar launch. It's a pretty eclectic cast which includes Jason Miller to round off the familiar faces from this series as well as other small parts played by the likes of Robert Loggia and Tom Atkins. But while this diversity is interesting in terms of humour it's definitely at odds with the more dour meditations in the plot.

This is a story which features a lot of zany costumes from superheroes to World War 2 prison guard uniforms, and a lot of lengthy dialogue scenes about how best to cast a Shakespeare play using only dogs. This scattershot temperamentally certainly reflects the states of minds of the principle characters but it does nothing for the consistency of the narrative, or the film's pacing. The individual moments work as their own thing whether it's serious discussion or a total farce, but it feels like too much all at once in places, and detracts from the core debate between Kane and Cutshaw which should have been a real focus. It isn't quite the unstable mixture of elements I'm making this out to be. It's not a total train wreck where Blatty's work on the likes of A Shot in the Dark have crashed head first into his more sinister stories. It's certainly worth checking out, and has a lot of strong visuals and good performances. Besides, it's a refreshing distraction from the real insanity of The Heretic at least. 

(Part 1) (Part 2)